Posted Monday 12 June 2017
Vibrant African fabrics and over-sized vintage denim jeans and jackets were brought together in a new sustainable collection celebrating the mixed cultural heritage of a Kingston University designer.
Kasubika Chola's garments were selected by a panel of industry experts as among the best 25 on show at this year's Graduate Fashion Week – with leading diversity campaigner and fashion icon Caryn Franklin even taking to the catwalk in one of her designs at the event.
Having moved from Zambia to Wakefield in West Yorkshire with her mother and sister aged four, the BA(Hons) Fashion student told how she wanted to embrace both sides of her cultural heritage in her work.
"There's a lot of division in our society right now but I'm passionate about embracing those different to yourself," the 23 year old said. "I'm from two very different backgrounds, but love them equally. I'm proud of my Zambian heritage and proud to be from Yorkshire, part of the Western culture, as well."
Inspired by the work of British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, African artist Momar Seck and the loose-fitting, wrap-around chitenge garments worn in traditional African dress, Kasubika has created a series of unisex garments for her final year collection, with both male and female models wearing her looks on the catwalk.
Cotton African shirts and dresses sourced from Brixton Market were cut and re-sewn to create new prints for sleeves, cuffs, collars and pockets. The garments were then combined with reworked denim dungarees and jeans, unpicked and then sewn together to create flowing new pieces.
"As a child I was always in oversized denim, I'd be in school and no-one knew what size I was because all my clothes were huge – but I loved them," she said. "When I was growing up my mum was working and raising her children so didn't have a lot of money to spend on new clothes.
"In charity shops you see styles from previous seasons, but they were new to me – I used to love having clothes no one else was wearing."
Kasubika used modern, geometric African prints in her work, designed by draping and layering material on the mannequin. One of the stand-out garments was made from two shirts stitched together to create a long dress with four sleeves that can be worn in different ways, with the spare pair tied to pull the look together.
Another striking piece saw her use dungaree straps holding together a jacket made from several pairs of jeans, with the layering of the garments representing the fusion of cultures.
All the denim pieces were lined with the African fabrics, while the theme of sustainability runs through the collection, with each look completed with bags made from large rice sacks.
"Sustainability is really important to me and I love how you can rework and recycle denim over and over again and it stays fresh," Kasubika said. "I emailed Levi's to ask if they had any old jeans that couldn't be resold that I could use in the collection, and the day before my birthday three boxes arrived on my doorstep – it was so nice of them."
Kasubika's collection caught the eye of Kingston University graduate and visiting professor Caryn Franklin, who was thrilled to model one of her looks. As well as supporting the designer's passion for sustainability, it was an opportunity to take to the catwalk to showcase the diversity of people interested in fashion, according to the industry guru.
"What I loved about Kasubika's aesthetic is how it's all about unifying people but still giving them their individuality," the diversity campaigner and fashion commentator explained. "I really enjoyed wearing her garments, there's humour in the clothes and it made me smile as I walked down the runway."
Seeing such a passionate advocate for diversity wearing her collection was a particularly proud moment for the fashion student. "Caryn is such an important person in the fashion world – she told me not to be afraid, to try things and be true to myself, which was such good advice," Kasubika said. "It was great to hear what she thought of my garments, she told me they were really creative and that I should be proud of myself which was so lovely."